Credits: Christopher Golden (writer), Ramon Bernardo (artist), Comicraft (letters), Tom Vincent (colors)
Summary: Shi’ar agents arrive on Earth, hoping to stop a drain on the M’Kraan Crystal. They locate Dark Beast, Holocaust, and X-Man. Using their powers against them, they abduct the mutants and hold them prisoner on their spacecraft. Onboard, the mutants learn that their fellow refugee from another reality, Sugar Man, has already made a deal with the Shi’ar. Forming a temporary truce, X-Man is able to escape with Holocaust and Dark Beast. Realizing that the Shi’ar want the shard of the M’Kraan Crystal inside Holocaust, X-Man telekinetically removes and destroys it. Dark Beast and Holocaust teleport back to Earth, as X-Man uses his powers to repair the damage to the spacecraft. The Shi’ar send X-Man and Sugar Man back to their homes, content that the duplicate M’Kraan shard has been destroyed.
Continuity Notes: Holocaust was stabbed with a shard of the M’Kraan Crystal in X-Men Omega. Following its removal in this issue, he suddenly switches back to his human form (which is a blonde white guy). Dark Beast explains that his armor allows him to change shape, but the M’Kraan Crystal was interfering with its functions. X-Man reminds us that Holocaust is invisible to psionics since working with Onslaught. Dark Beast is also invisible to his scans at the end of the issue, but X-Man doesn’t know why.
Holocaust is called “Nemesis” for much of this issue. Dark Beast explains that it’s the birth name given to him by Apocalypse, and that he should use it because he’s going to be a “nemesis for mankind.” So, Apocalypse gave his son “Nemesis” as his Christian name and then code-named him Holocaust, which is one of the dumbest retcons I’ve ever read (made worse by the issue’s insistence on constantly reminding us that he has two names). The behind-the-scenes reason for the name switch is that the character apparently had to be renamed when his action figure was released, because “Holocaust” was a bit too intense for Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R Us.
I Love the ‘90s: X-Man asks the Shi’ar why they’re wearing “Arnold’s freeze armor.”
Review: It’s hard to believe X-Man was still getting annuals in 1997, but here we are. Actually, the determination of which titles did and did not receive annuals during these days is kind of confusing. Looking at the Top 100 list from an issue of Wizard from around this era has Generation X at #20, X-Force at #24, X-Factor at #25, X-Man at #27, Cable at #30, and Excalibur rounding out the X-titles at #45. Looking around, it seems like X-Force didn’t have an annual after 1996 (although I seem to recall one popping up in 1999), Cable never had one, and X-Factor and Excalibur dropped the annuals after 1994. X-Man is still charting fairly high at this point (surprisingly above Cable), so that could justify an annual. I'm only now learning that X-Men vol. two had an annual in 1997; I'd never seen a reference to it anywhere before researching this post.
The previous annual focused on X-Man’s connection with his fellow Age of Apocalypse refugees, which is also the starting place for this story. The basic premise isn’t bad, as it uses the character in a far more logical and coherent way than his regular series has at this point. The story even opens with X-Man actually doing something proactive -- he’s scanning for Dark Beast, the horrible villain who keeps sending minions after X-Man while he does nothing in retaliation. Connecting the M’Kraan Crystal, the AoA characters’ ticket to this world, and the Shi’ar is another practical use of continuity. However, the story quickly descends into pointless fight scenes, bogged down by excessive word balloons and captions. Joe Kelly could over-write a page in his early days, but at least his writing had a viewpoint and personality. Golden’s scripting is extremely mannered and often redundant. It’s hard to care about X-Man as a protagonist when he spits out this kind of dialogue with a straight face: “Could I have survived the destruction of my own reality just so there would be someone with the power and knowledge to save this one from the same horrors?” Is that his awkward way of telling us that he’s trying to prevent our Earth from becoming the AoA? If that’s the case, why does this guy waste so much time wandering aimlessly and getting into pointless fights?